Monday, November 8, 2010

Manic Weekend

It seems like every weekend this fall I've reached Sunday night in a puddle of spent adrenaline, simultaneously marveling at how much I got done (and how little of it was homework... yikes) and wondering whether I could possibly do it again in a week's time.

And yet, it's happened again! This weekend, though it lacked some of the big-name commitments of past weeks, felt like a foot race right from 9 am on Saturday Morning to 7 pm on Sunday night, with polo, a VERY exciting ride on Kiki (which is going to get its own entire post), a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show and all of its accompanying shenanigans, and an all-day IDA show in Davis (complete with bonafide near-death experience!!) on Sunday fighting for top billing. Add that in with the fact that the week preceding had been one of the busiest in my time at Stanford so far-- three major (6-15 page) papers and two major midterms-- and, needless to say, I'm currently feeling a bit wiped out.

There were so many disparate riding adventures this weekend that I think I'm going to split them up into a few separate posts. Today's? POLO.

(Russell assigns ponies for the day - in addition to the chukkers we played, we also had practice for all the new players)

Saturday morning we went and grabbed all the ponies, "brushed" them (I put this quotation marks because the Stanford Polo approach to grooming is much further on the "basic functional" than anything I've ever seen: we basically make sure there's no big patches of mud, gaping wounds, and that all four legs and attendant shoes are firmly attached, and that's about it... I constantly think back to being in Suzi's program and can only imagine the delicate shade of green she would turn if she saw us!!), and loaded them on the trailer to take them over the Woodside horse park where we play in the winter.

(lots and lots of ponies)

As a side note, polo trailering as also a completely new and mystifying concept for someone like me who's grown up worrying over the horses even when they're booted, bumpered, and enclosed in extremely insular little cotton-wool compartments: in polo we put on the boots they're going to use to play (on the way out; on the way back they get nothing) and then pack them in sideways, facing in alternating directions, as tightly as we can manage. The shock is that this goes incredibly smoothly 99+% of the time. Of course, polo ponies are used to being in a lot closer quarters with their fellows than your average riding horse, but I'm still always surprised at how well they take to being treated like sardines during the trailering process.

(Seriously close quarters! I also can't get over the nylon halters and lead ropes (though we do use breakaway twine), but that seems to be a pretty common California thing and not just a polo one - still, it makes my inner Pony Clubber shudder)

Anyway, we got over the park, got unloaded, and readied three of them for me, Russell (our captain and all around badass men's player), and Elizabeth (who, like me, is a fellow eventer and also joined last spring) to play in a few chukkers with local players from the Horse Park before the start of full team practice. This was the first time I'd ever played against people who weren't either my teammates or my coaches, so I was a touch apprehensive that I was going to find myself way out of my league and that the play was going to completely pass me by. Fortunately, everything turned out to be super relaxed and the Horse Park players were incredibly friendly and forgiving of my relative novice status. The play was lively but not too fast, which was perfect for me, and I really got to practice finding my place in the play and staying in the action.

(Elizabeth with Tini, the "Mongolian War Pony")

For the first chukker I rode Stout, who is probably not my favorite of our horses as she's quite big, slow, and lumbering, though she's very safe and genuine so I can't complain too badly. Fortunately I remembered to borrow a pair of MASSIVE smooth-rowel spurs (by far the biggest things I've ever attached to my boots!!) which allowed me to be able to make her canter... a distinct improvement from the last time I rode her, where I basically stood in the middle of the arena with my legs going like a rider in a Thelwell cartoon while the rest of the play raced from one end of the arena to the other without me!!! I was still a bit conservative and had a bit of a time getting her up to speed, which kept me out of a lot of plays, but overall felt like I had a much better understanding of where I was supposed to be and had a good time riding people off (by far my favorite part of polo =D). We ended up losing the first chukker but Elizabeth and I both made a lot of improvements in our play (Russell played very well as usual, but held back on purpose to try to give the two of us more time in the action).

(Stout at the Alumni match... looking tank-like, as usual)

We had a brief break and then were up again; Elizabeth and I switched horses so she had Stout and I got Gamo (or, as I call her, "the White Whale"). Gamo is a small white butterball who you would think would be even lazier than Stout... but you'd be dead wrong. She's shockingly quick for her chunkiness and turns very well, just getting a hair strong in some of the more open plays. I've been a little freaked out by her in the past because she can get pretty wound up and unhappy about the contact (sounds like another little grey mare I know.... hmmm) but on Saturday she was absolutely PERFECT. She went, stopped, turned, and went again, all with very little demanding on my part; it was a very cool feeling.

(Gamo on a set earlier this fall; I may or may not have been riding and holding the ropes to two other ponies when this photo was taken... safety first!!)

Because I was feeling so gelled with her, it was a lot easier for me to practice getting a little more aggressive and into the play. The end result was that I got to the ball way more often than I ever had before, actually hit some good technical shots, and even hit the ball hard (like, so that it actually went a good distance) out of the gallop in the middle of play for the first time EVER!! Yay!! The hitting has far and away been the most difficult thing about polo for me and I've been putting in many, many hours in the hitting cage over the past few weeks to try to improve that part of my game, so it felt good to feel like maybe that work's been paying off. I still have tons and tons to work on in terms of knowing the strategies and figuring out where I should be within the play at all times, but I really think the past few times out have helped me a lot. I'm so thankful for everyone who's been putting up with me running into them/over their ball/across their line over the past weeks; I promise I'll keep getting better!

(A very doofy and fat-cheeked me and a very tuckered Gamo after a great chukker... Thank you, Gamo!)

So, that was two fairly major adrenaline bursts down, and it was barely noon on Saturday. I helped put the ponies away and then made to leave the Horse Park. As I did, I couldn't help but stare longingly (ok, even more than that... LUSTILY) out at the beautiful green cross country course that was open that day for probably one of the last times all year. It was sunny, low 70s, and absolutely perfect. I hadn't been for a ride out and about at Woodside all year, and at that moment the want to be out in that big green field was completely overwhelming. So, I started hatching a plan for a little excursion...

BUT, that part of the story will have to wait until tomorrow! =D

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